The first prerequisite for the foreman is he should be better and faster than anyone else on the roof. He will certainly be tested regularly by rookies and other hard cases who say something can’t be done. That’s when the foreman has to step up and say “Let me show you how to do it.”
When that happens, it’s not just a training opportunity. It also serves to demonstrate leadership ability, which is the second prerequisite. The crew won’t respect a leader who can’t lead. A foreman should never ask somebody on the crew to do something that he can’t or won’t do himself. He sets the pace and establishes the working standards that apply on his jobsite.
The foreman position is one of the jobs in roofing that needs either a “carrot” or a “stick” to lead effectively.
Some foremen get their way by threats and intimidation, but they tend to have a lot of turnover. Their best workers will pursue other opportunities, leaving the stick-wielding foreman with a crew of weaklings he can bully.
I’ve always preferred the carrot approach. It utilizes “The Greatest Management Principle” as recognized by author Michael LeBoeuf. It says: “That which gets rewarded, gets done”. By giving your crew an incentive to accomplish both the quantity and quality you want, it is infinitely easier for you to do your job effectively. You go from being a babysitter of grown adults who undermine your efforts to a partner in a hardworking crew of guys who are all on the same page.
I’ve gotten great results from even labor pool employees who are considered the “bottom of the barrel” and only suitable for the most menial jobs in roofing. By offering them a modest bonus for accomplishing what I need, I am seldom disappointed.
The size of a project often determines how a foreman must do his job. Most smaller projects have a “working foreman” who manages the work while roofing right alongside the crew.
Bigger projects with dozens of roofers generally do best with a “supervising foreman” who is constantly watching everything that is going on. He needs to think for those on his crew who lack experience. And he will do far more work with his eyes than with his back.
One of the most important jobs in roofing that the foreman needs to accomplish every day is to get all his guys home safe and sound. Nobody will care how much roofing you accomplish if somebody gets killed or crippled in the process.
While roofing and leadership skills are essential, it is becoming increasingly useful for foremen to be bilingual. With a heavy influx of Hispanic workers into the trade, a foreman who can keep his project from turning into a “Tower of Babel” is a valuable asset to any company.
It doesn’t take a lot of Spanish to get by. I remember one time I dried in a couple hundred squares of roof with two Mexican kids who had no roofing experience and spoke no English whatsoever. About the only Spanish I knew was “Bueno” and “No Bueno”, but that was enough to get the job done. That just goes to show you what a good foreman can do with a little help.